Running from the Devil

love4policePrison Books Update: The credibility of this interview with Steve Jablonski has been called into question. Please see comments section of this article for a written statement regarding the time Steve Jablonski spent on the run.

From CrimethInc.

An interview with grand jury resister Steve Jablonski

If you were contacted by the FBI, what would you do? Do you know who you would call? Would you be able to find a lawyer? Would you quit your job? Would you talk to your partner, your comrades, your parents? More importantly, would you talk to the government? If the FBI informed you that you were being made to stand before a grand jury, at which you could not have a lawyer present and you might face jail time if you did not answer questions—what would you do?

In 2012, several anarchists in the Pacific Northwest had to answer these questions. They were brought before the court to determine if they knew anything or anyone that was connected to a riot that broke out on May Day of that year. Three people kept their mouths shut and did several months in jail. One other person talked and was released, and quickly vanished without telling her former friends what she had done.

What follows is the experience of another person, Steve Jablonski, who took another route. While standing in solidarity with other people in the Pacific Northwest who resisted the grand jury, Steve instead decided to leave the country in order to avoid spending time in jail. Steve, like his comrades, kept his mouth shut in the face of government repression, but also faced other obstacles. He had to contend with the police forces of another country, and continues to face the realities of political repression now that he has returned.

There are many ways to defy the powers that be. Sometimes, you keep your mouth shut and do a few months; other times, you flee the country. We leave it up to you, dear reader, to choose what is right for you.“Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”
–T-Bone Slim

Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you arrive in the Pacific Northwest and become an anarchist?

I grew up in New Jersey, about 45 minutes outside of New York City. I lived out there till I was eighteen, when I moved out to Olympia, Washington to start going to college. I started getting interested in anarchist ideas when I was around thirteen our fourteen. I was introduced to them through the punk and hardcore music I was listening to at the time. But up until I moved to Olympia, anarchism was always just words and ideas in my head; I was not involved with any anarchist projects.

Once I moved to Olympia, I started being a part of the anarchist movement. I came across my first black bloc about a month after I moved out to Washington, at the Seattle Anti-War demo that happened in October 2007. But shortly after that, all of the port militarization resistance stuff was happening in Olympia [physical blockades of military equipment being used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan]. This was the first time I witnessed street fighting with the cops, property destruction as a political (or “anti-political”) tactic, building barricades in the street, etc. The resistance obviously was not explicitly anarchist, but there were lots of different anarchists involved in the various organizing meetings and street confrontations. So basically, since 2007 I have been living in the Puget Sound area, aside from the time I spent in Montreal. I have maintained being heavily involved in anarchist projects since arriving in Olympia.

Why did the FBI target you after the May Day riot on 2012?

Well, the story of the FBI targeting me actually started about a year or so before the 2012 May Day riot in Seattle. In early 2011, there were a lot of anti-police demos in Seattle around the murder of John T. Williams. He was an indigenous man who was known in the city for being a prolific wood carver. He was shot dead at point blank range by Seattle pig Ian Burke. Burke was acquitted of all charges and this triggered several confrontational demos in Seattle. Along with these demonstrations, there were various acts of anonymous property destruction around the Puget Sound area, mainly in Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia. The two biggest actions were the attempted arsons of the police substations in both Seattle and Olympia. A few days after the attempted arson on the cop-shop in Olympia, I was approached by FBI agents when I was taking a jog around my neighborhood. They rolled up on me in an unmarked car and started talking a bunch of shit to me. They said things about how me and my friends were going to go to prison for a long time and they knew that we were the ones who burnt down the substation, that it was just a matter of time before they would come and arrest us. They also referenced me as “Mr. Sabot Infoshoppe,” because that was the name of the anarchist student group in Olympia that I was the coordinator for.

A few months after that, the FBI went and talked to both my mom and my aunt on the same day, both of whom live in New York. They told them how I was an anarchist terrorist and how I was going to end up in prison if I don’t change the direction of my life. A few months later I got detained by the TSA/FBI when I was flying down to the Bay Area. They told me they knew I was an anarchist and, once again, that I was going to end up in prison for a long time for the things my friends and I had done.

Several months after the May Day riot on May 1st, I received a phone call from someone saying he was an FBI agent. He referred to himself as “Special Agent McNeil” and said he had a subpoena that he needed to deliver to me. Obviously, at that moment it was a huge shock to receive such a phone call, but at the same time, the FBI had already harassed me multiple times before, so it was not entirely out of the blue.

How did you come to a decision to leave the country?

After sitting down with a couple of friends and talking over all the options I had available, I decided that I did not want to walk into my own prison cell. If you refuse to testify before a grand jury, you are likely to end up serving a prison sentence for civil contempt. I knew that under no circumstance would I testify at the grand jury and therefore that I would be going to prison for up to eighteen months. But I had a very unique circumstance; a subpoena is only valid if it is delivered to you in person. Because the FBI had the wrong address, they were not able to locate me. I definitely don’t think they expected me to just take off like I did. In reality if they had never called me and had just tracked me down, my options would have been entirely different.

After I’d sat down with friends, the choice became pretty clear. I totally understand that prison is a reality of life for many people in this world and that by my involvement in anarchist activities I certainly risk ending up spending some time there. But something about presenting myself to the state for a prison sentence did not sit well with me.

Was it difficult for you to get into Canada?

Actually no, it was surprisingly easy. I mean, the emotional and mental aspect of leaving my friends and not knowing where I was going and what I was doing was extremely terrifying, but the actual border process was simple. At that point, I don’t think the FBI knew that I was going to leave the country. I think they underestimated just how committed all the grand jury resisters were.

I took a bus from Bellingham, which is only about thirty minutes south of the US/Canada border. I told the border agent I was going to Vancouver for a few days to look at grad schools and within three or four minutes I had entered into Canada. It was one of the most surreal things I have ever experienced.

Were the authorities aware of you living in Canada?

For sure. Within a few months of my arrival in Montreal, I was stopped by CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service)—which is like the Canadian equivalent of the FBI, but they do not have arresting powers. I had also gotten voicemails to my old US phone from “Special Agent McNeil,” about how I was not going to win this battle and I would regret my decisions. It was also pretty obvious that my new phone was tapped and that some of the emails from my yahoo account were being read by the FBI.

What was the emotional toll while living in this situation?

The emotional toll was really, really heavy. Being away from my friends, who I’m closer to than my family, was definitely hard. Also, none of us knew that I was going to be gone for twenty months. The Grand Jury ended up getting a six-month extension, which caused another delay in my return.

The hardest part was that my older brother died in December of 2012, when I was still in exile. Because of my legal situation, I was not able to attend the funeral or spend any time with my family. If nothing else in the world has solidified my utter hatred for the Capitalism and the State, then being torn away from attending the funeral of my brother certainly has. It’s something I have lost a lot of sleep over and still have only begun to address.

Luckily, I was able to have a wonderful group of people in Montreal who offered more support than I have ever received in my life. I don’t know what I would have done without the anarchists I met in Montréal.

In what ways did the authorities fuck with you while you where there?

Oh man, in lots of ways. I got harassed by CSIS on multiple occasions. Throughout the year and half I was there, I would say that I was harassed about ten times. The most intense harassment came from the Montréal city police (SPVM). One night I was walking to the store a block away from my apartment and they stopped me and threw me in the squad car. They drove me about forty minutes outside the city and left me in a random industrial parking lot. They took my phone, keys, wallet, jacket, and shoes. Luckily, it was September so it wasn’t too cold, but I had to walk about a half mile just to figure out where I was and get ahold of my roommates.

Also, during my last two months there I was definitely under something like 24-hour surveillance. The cops were stopping me almost every day for a straight week and posting outside my new apartment for hours on end. It was a pretty surreal experience, but my friends in Montréal definitely did everything they could to help me get through it.

Have you been harassed since coming back to the US?

Yes. I was in the Bay Area a few weeks ago and two FBI agents approached me as I was leaving the BART station. It was a really short interaction and they basically just said they were here to welcome me back. Creepy.

But another close friend of mine was also stopped by the FBI a few weeks ago when he returning from Europe. They interrogated him for an hour or so but he refused to answer any questions. So the FBI hating on all our lives is still very much a real thing. But at this point, it is something that I am trying to get used to rather than just eliminate, because I don’t think it’s very realistic the Feds will be going away anytime soon.

Looking back, did you feel like you were supported?

Overall, I would say yes. I felt much supported by US anarchists as a whole. I think the response people had to the Grand Jury was really inspiring in a lot of ways. I think some of my individual friends could have done a better job at being there for me and given that, I have definitely been reevaluating a lot of my relationships. But at the same time, I feel like many of relationships have been strengthened from this experience, and I have built more trust, affinity, and love with some of the people in my life. I kind of feel like, if my friendships can make it through an experience this intense and straining, they should be able to make it through anything. And that is a pretty great feeling to have.

I will say that I was extremely inspired by all of the solidarity actions that happened all over the world. Just off the top of my head I can think of actions that happened in Australia, Greece, France, and definitely everywhere across the US and Canada.

Somebody burned down an “Eco-Condo” in Seattle and claimed solidarity with the grand jury resisters and that was something that really excited me. It was really nice to see that in such an intense time of repression someone(s) were willing to throw down like that. I was really happy to see people continuing the anarchist struggle in solidarity with all the resisters who couldn’t participate due to the repression we were facing.

It appears that grand juries are not going away any time soon. What advice would you give people facing a similar situation?

I would just want to let people know that there are lots of different ways to resist grand juries. For some people I think it makes a lot of sense to appear in front of the judge and then do their time for contempt, but for others fleeing a subpoena is a much more appealing option. It’s kind of like, nothing in life happens in a vacuum, and each person needs to decide on their own what way they want to resist. I think talking it over with friends is a pretty essential thing to do. I know when I first got subpoenaed I was really freaking out and it pretty much felt like my life was falling apart, but I had good friends around me who were able to keep me in check, and let me know that I wouldn’t be going through this thing alone.

But I will say that I think the “legal” strategy is a strategy that one can use, but certainly not a strategy that one has to use. Sometimes it makes sense to use this strategy, but I feel like portraying oneself as a victim is almost essential to having a successful legal strategy. In a way, it is true: when the State fucks with you, technically, you are a victim. But I try to understand that the state is fucking with me and my friends because they don’t like us, and myself and my friends in turn hate the State. For me, it is important to say that I don’t give a fuck about rights. I’m not interested in portraying myself as a victim because I view the State as my enemy. I seek no sort of resolution between myself and domination; I want it to be completely destroyed. The courts, the prisons, hetero-supremacy, white supremacy—I want to work on consistently attacking the manifestations of these forms of domination.

Clearly these are ideas that don’t fit into any sort of legal strategy, but I’m not concerned with a legal strategy. No disrespect to any anarchists who are focused on their legal strategy, but I feel really glad to be able to use this opportunity to let people know there is more than one way to successfully resist a grand jury.

Long Live Anarchy!

This interview was conducted by Doug Gilbert, the author of the book I Saw Fire: Reflections on Riots, Revolt, and the Black Bloc recently published by Little Black Cart, and a stalwart contributor to anarchist media projects in the Bay Area.

Download Zine PDF (online reading version). [3.1MB]

Download Imposed PDF (print-ready version). [2.1MB]

Say Nothing (information about grand jury resistance)
Why Riot (an essay)
About Grand Juries
Solidarity with Steve

1 Comment

  1. prisonbookscollective

    Regarding Steven Jablonski’s Deceptions, Grand Juries and Sensible Solidarity

    This is a collaborative statement written by former friends and comrades of Steven Jablonski.

    “At the very rare chance that I am being subpoenaed [to] this Grand Jury, I could not find myself in a better situation.” – Steven Jablonski

    In July, 2012, following riotous May Day demonstrations in Seattle, WA, several anarchists in Seattle, Olympia, WA, and Portland, OR, were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury.* The state has historically used grand juries to repress rebels and to map their social and political networks. Though ostensibly investigating the sticks-and-stones attack on the William Kenzo Nakamura United States Courthouse in Seattle on May Day, this investigation came on the heels of years of increasingly combative and contagious anarchist activity in the Pacific Northwest. Thus, it was obvious that May Day was merely an excuse; the real goal was to cast a chill over a situation that was quickly heating up. In response, PNW anarchists joined forces to mount a fierce resistance to the state’s attempts to disrupt anarchist organizing and action.

    We went into overdrive, learning from and educating each other about grand juries and histories of effective resistance. To say nothing, to refuse to cooperate, to deny the state the answers it wanted—this was the collective strategy. Supporters held public events and demonstrations and raised thousands of dollars to support the grand jury resisters. Actions proliferated across the country and even across borders. Some of those subpoenaed quietly went into hiding while others appeared before the grand jury and refused to testify. KteeO Olejnik, Maddy Pfeiffer, and Matt Duran spent months in prison for their refusal to cooperate. Then there was Steven Jablonski, the self-styled rebel on the run.

    Many know Steven Jablonski as the grand jury resister who chose to leave the country in order to avoid testifying after purportedly receiving a phone call from an FBI agent informing him that he was the intended recipient of a grand jury subpoena. Steve spent over a year in voluntary exile in Canada, returning in March, 2014.

    Early in his time in Canada, Steve released a statement explaining his choice to flee rather than potentially face prison time and expressing solidarity with the grand jury resisters. A new website launched in May of 2013 with a post calling for support and donations. Then, on September 28, 2013, an update detailing various instances of extreme harassment from Canadian authorities with yet another plea for donations was published on the internet. Throughout his stay in Canada, Steve received thousands of dollars from friends and supporters and was sheltered by comrades in several cities. People also engaged in clandestine solidarity actions, putting their safety and freedom on the line for Steve.

    Steve returned to the United States in March, 2014, and moved back to Olympia, WA. Soon after, in June, 2014, Crimethinc published a detailed interview with Steve wherein he chronicled the hardships he suffered while in exile in Montreal. Meanwhile, he continued to report to his friends ongoing and increasingly bizarre harassment by local cops and federal agents, in both Olympia and the Bay Area. Each interaction sent new waves of stress and anxiety through our networks.

    Steve was always alone in his stories about being harassed. Despite this, he resisted using a buddy system to ensure that he was never unaccompanied and thus vulnerable. Ignoring suggestions from friends, he refused to document these interactions by claiming he was unable to take photos or video. He also remained steadfastly opposed to seeking legal council. This went on for a year before several people who knew Steve confided in each other that the stories he was telling were beginning to sound outlandish. We became worried that he might be experiencing paranoid delusions and contacted one of his family members to follow up on a recent harassment story that involved this person.

    This is why, in November, Steve was caught in a lie and finally confronted. He subsequently sent out an e-mail in which he chronologically listed all the instances of state harassment he previously claimed had occurred over the past several years, admitting to fabricating some of them but still insisting much of it was true. Soon after, however, Steve called a friend and admitted to lying about almost all instances of harassment that had transpired over the past several years.

    Between specific instances of harassment and their life-jamming consequences, Steve publicly and/or privately plucked away on our heart strings on over forty occasions, spinning what he ultimately confessed to being a malicious web of unforgivable lies.

    Though Steve has stated that he lied to “get cred” in anarchist circles and because of distress, the real reasons behind his campaign of lies and manipulation is unknown. It is also unknown whether he was ever actually a target of the grand jury.

    We are releasing this information so that Steve is no longer able to use his reputation as a grand jury resister to insinuate himself into other anarchist circles. He claims to be teaching English in Cambodia.

    In retrospect, it is plainly apparent that his chosen strategy of “resistance” to the grand jury was extremely dangerous and should not be emulated by anyone, ever. There is a tendency for anarchists to make martyrs of those experiencing direct repression, and we fear that Steve’s tall tale of resistance could influence future resisters to choose a similar path of ineffective, unsafe and romanticized faux-clandestinity.

    As mentioned above, several of the PNW grand jury subpoenants disappeared quietly and with little fanfare and managed to avoid both testifying and prison time. In contrast, Steve’s whereabouts were known to many, and he continued to use insecure means to remain in contact with his friends back home. He justified this behavior by claiming that since he hadn’t actually received his subpoena, a legal loophole meant that he wasn’t actually breaking the law.

    Steve profited both monetarily and emotionally from anarchists’ strong commitment to solidarity and put the people who cared about him at risk. In private, he shamed us for not being more supportive, rarely expressed gratitude, and would even pressure us to put ourselves at various levels of risk for him.

    Choosing to go underground is not something that can be taken lightly. True clandestinity requires commitment, and it requires cutting ties. Isolation from friends and family is an unfortunate necessity. We will not pretend that we are experts, but we do know that you can’t go underground while simultaneously calling, Skyping, and e-mailing your besties. Notwithstanding supposed “legal loopholes,” this horrible security practice achieves the work of the police.

    We want to again thank both the quietly avoidant and the openly defiant Pacific Northwest grand jury resisters. We continue to be inspired by KteeO, Matt, Maddy, Kerry Cunneen, Dennison Williams, and all the anonymous rebels who stuck their necks out in daring solidarity actions. This courage may well have held back a flood of repression that could have sunk several pirate ships.

    As recently as February, 2014, PNW anarchists are still being detained and questioned about May Day 2012. Though this news about Steve is terrible, we hope it can serve as a reminder of the strength of silence and solidarity.

    Some crucial lessons learned since the truth about Steve came to light:

    1. Don’t be afraid to respectfully question or challenge those who are being targeted by the state. Moreover, don’t look down on those who choose to be critical in a sensitive moment.

    2. Encourage those experiencing repression to document (with cameras, with notes written down immediately after, etc.) and make public instances of harassment. This is important for countless reasons, not only to demonstrate that said instances actually occurred.

    3. Do not idolize a person or forgive their shitty behavior with the excuse that they are a victim and therefore too fragile to reflect on their actions.

    4. Responding to repression is a collective responsibility. Individuals are singled out and targeted but the true goal is often to weaken, destabilize, and spread paranoia among a group of people. Make informed decisions together!

    5. Gossip less and practice respectful confrontation between comrades. The better our communication and ability to resolve conflicts, the less the state (or plain manipulative assholes) can exploit our weaknesses.

    What To Do if You Receive a Subpoena

    If you are served with a subpoena, call the National Lawyers Guild Hotline at 888-NLG-ECOL (888-654-3265) or call a criminal defense attorney immediately.

    DO NOT KEEP YOUR SUBPOENA A SECRET. Everyone is safer (including you) if as many people as possible know what is happening and can coordinate support activities accordingly.

    IF APPROACHED, DO NOT TALK TO THE FBI. NOT EVEN IF IT’S “JUST A CHAT.” The Feds are trained to manipulate you into sharing information. You are not legally required to talk to them or to open your door to them. Be brave, say nothing, and contact a lawyer immediately.

    More Information on Grand Jury Resistance
    Essential and Inspiring Statement of Resistance by the Bay Area Grand Jury Resistance Collective
    How to Crush a Grand Jury the No Compromise Way

    *What is a Grand Jury?

    In the federal legal system, the grand jury is used to decide whether someone should be charged (“indicted”) for a serious crime. The grand jury hears evidence presented by the prosecutor: the U.S. Attorney. The grand jury uses subpoenas to gather this evidence. It can subpoena documents, physical evidence, and witnesses to testify. Grand juries exist to coerce civilians into providing information about themselves and others to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. They operate in secret; no judges or defense attorneys are present, and neither Constitutional rights nor conventional evidence-gathering protocol apply. Grand juries are frequently used to harass activists and dissidents.

    Grand juries basically force witnesses to choose between snitching and serving time. “Cooperation” with the Feds is a euphemism for coercion. If a witness chooses to cooperate with a Grand Jury but does not answer their questions (by pleading the Fifth or saying “I don’t know”) they are often found in contempt of court, or later charged with perjury. If a witness chooses not to cooperate, they may be found in contempt of court. Snitches are always promised leniency or a reduction of punishment, but this is almost always a lie. Grand Jury resisters can be incarcerated for as long as the Grand Jury is in session, which can be up to eighteen months, with three opportunities for six month extensions.

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